Who Purchases Book Reviews?

The short answer is everyone does, although it might not be evident at first. National publishing trade magazines present the illusion that they are fair and balanced—a familiar phrase—in their review coverage, but given a closer look, these publications thrive on the sales of expensive advertising space, including their front and back covers. Other national trades don’t even hide the fact that they charge hundreds of dollars per review. You’ll notice that very few small publishers are mentioned in their pages. The presses that cannot afford ad space and review fees coincidentally go unmentioned, and all independent presses (i.e. micro presses and self-publishers) are typically barred from book review consideration.

Consider that advertising fees are built into the budgets of large press books, and when you purchase one, you are in effect paying for their media coverage somewhere along the line. There is simply no justification for highlighting or featuring the next chick-lit-murder-mystery redux novel in any of the media outlets, other than it is big business for the monolithic presses and they have the dollars to push their product. We are a capitalist society, and profit drives many editorial decisions. Any author who manages his/her own marketing has run into a media outlet (print, radio, etc.) that has promised increased coverage with the purchase of advertising space or time. While many local newspapers still hold an air of integrity, these venues are drying up faster than the rapidly fading printed news industry.

This state of affairs casts a long shadow over literature. One byproduct is that the large commercial presses, by virtue of supplying the economic lifeblood to the publishing media, control what reaches the reading public. Due to either politics or economics, certain genres and ideas are not desirable to large presses, and therefore, vital topics are kept from the public discourse, while excellent independent press authors go unnoticed. In the end, they turn to the Internet for help.

A survey of the web reveals hundreds of review outlets—some specialized, others general. Many of these reviewers write for free, and their coverage is professionally uneven. These are hobby sites. Meanwhile the Internet has killed the three-headed monster of publishing: paper, ink, and distribution. Through the years, paper and ink became increasingly expensive, and most recently rising gas prices (i.e. a distribution cost) was the death knell for most brick and mortar publications, but in the digital age, the Internet can more than fill the need while providing work for dedicated journalists.

The US Review of Books was created for two reasons: first, to provide inexpensive access to professional book reviewers for all authors and, second, to pay the writers a fair wage for their work. In less than a decade, the US Review has employed dozens of reviewers and written over twelve thousand reviews to mostly happy authors. They are mostly happy, because the USR’s reviewers are honest and thoughtful. If a book is hackneyed or wasn’t properly edited, perhaps for style and spelling, the review is going to mention these facts. Luckily that isn’t the norm, and the large presses are starting to notice and quietly submit their books for value media coverage as the USR climbs to the top of search engines. Seeing the future, publicity agents and author services companies are also integrating the US Review into their marketing plans. Good books deserve serious consideration and discussion, regardless of where and how the book is published.

As the millennials—sometimes called the Digital Generation—assumes authority, the Internet and all modes of digital transfer will take control. It makes sense; it’s convenient and mostly green technology. Outlets like the US Review of Books will continue to expand in order to fill authors’ marketing needs while providing employment opportunities to the writing/journalist force.

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Should You Purchase Social Media Friends and Followers?

Recently we noticed a competitor had a large number of Facebook friends and Twitter followers, but when we looked closer using a few of the common Internet analysis tools, we discovered that the overwhelming majority of these friends and followers were inactive accounts, nearly 85%. While it’s possible that these followers compose the dullest collection of people in the world, it is more likely that these followers were purchased and are therefore utterly worthless.

We’ve all seen the ads to purchase social media friends and followers. You cannot have a Twitter account without encountering the vendors who promise 10,000 followers for around $100. It’s very enticing to suddenly boost your numbers to amazing levels, but these vendors are predominantly selling connections to accounts that are not regularly monitored, probably not ever, and not by people who are actually interested in you. Mostly these are dummy accounts, designed to prop up social media numbers. The industry refers to these as “fake followers.”

Some level of fake followers will always be connected to your social media accounts. It’s unavoidable and typically in the single digits, but let’s examine the reasons why you should not purchase social media followers.

Integrity: While it’s deceptive to fool your friends and family, it is unethical to sell goods and services on the illusion of popularity. Many customers flock toward apparently popular market choices. When a rock band, for example, boosts their profile with a fake following, it’s a dicey decision that may or may not pay off with increased attention, but when a buyer’s purchase decision hinges on the seller’s ability to reach other people, such as boasting a large Twitter audience, deceiving the buyer with a fake audience is illegal.

Reputation: Organic social media growth is difficult, requiring a relentless dedication to providing useful and/or interesting content. There’s no cheating this factor. Large numbers of fake followers will be discovered. People will notice your anemic discussion rate—low percentages of replies, re-posts, and re-tweets, etc. On your social media timelines or by using any of the available Internet analysis tools, informed people will uncover the sudden burst and subsequent drop in new friends and followers, which coincides with the time you purchased your fake fan base. Moreover, customers will notice that they aren’t getting the anticipated public relations push because your social media followers aren’t real people.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Not only will you not be able to trend on Facebook and Twitter, which is something we covet above most social media efforts, search engine algorithms will spot your fake audience and penalize your rankings via their ever-present and omnipotent SEO. You can buy a social media following, but you cannot make it do anything. It’s a dead beast, and search engines will drive past it on the digital highway.

Publicity scams go back as far as biblical times, but the short term gain never outweighs the eventual damage. Buying a fake audience will hurt you in the long run, while attracting a following through concrete value will achieve legitimate results. For example, if you liked this article, you might consider following us on Twitter, subscribing to our blog, or requesting a book review. Thank you.

There are many social media auditing tools to choose from. According to TwitterAudit.com, here are some statistics for the top Tweeters:

@BarackObama, 51% fake

@JustinBeiber, 48% fake

@KimKardashian,  44% fake

@TheEllenShow, 36% fake

More Eric Hoffer Book Award Success Stories

In 2007, The US Review of Books began publishing the results of the Eric Hoffer Book Award. While the US Review is blind to the actual judging process, recently the Hoffer Award opened a window in The Authority of Book Awards. Years earlier, its chairman talked about the popular award’s humble beginnings in The Eric Hoffer Award: Righting the Wrongs.

While The US Review of Books boasts over 15,000 monthly subscribers, tens of thousands of additional readers visit its on-line publication to view the results of the Eric Hoffer Book Award each spring. Let’s take a look at how the excitement and the Hoffer Award in general has enhanced the success of the authors and publishers who registered their books with one of the most popular international competitions for small, academic, and independent books.

“The award brought recognition locally and nationally, increasing interest and distribution that continues even after ten years since publishing.” Carolyn Singer, The Seasoned Gardener

“For one thing, I’m a college professor, and doing so well in the Eric Hoffer Award earned me a bigger than usual raise. For another, it boosted book sales.” Andy Solomon, The Fourth Demand

“Winning an honorable mention in the self-help category boosted my book sales. It also helped with credibility in requesting book interviews and book signings. The reward is highly respected in the literary field.” Michele Sfakianos, RN, BSN, Ace You Life

“Winning this award kicked sales of Mr. Touchdown up significantly and gained the book recognition in both bookstore and school sales. Even now, 10 years after winning the award, my book still sells a few dozen copies a quarter, more in the first quarter when it is picked up for Black History Month. I have passed 2,000 total sales, with very little promotion and am moving toward 2,500.” Lyda Phillips, Mr. Touchdown

“Once I included [my Hoffer Award honor] on my links, sales increased by 25%. I’m Finalist as well on the Royal Palm Literary Award through the Florida Writers Association, but fewer readers are aware of this award. Obviously Eric Hoffer continues to make an impact, and I believe I’m getting some good miles from his legacy. Thank you!” Vanessa Russell, Four of a Kind

These success stories form the core reason why the Eric Award was created. The US Review of Books to be a sponsor of the Eric Hoffer Book Award.

Eric Hoffer Book Award Success Stories

In 2007, The US Review of Books began publishing the results of the Eric Hoffer Book Award. While the US Review is blind to the actual judging process, recently the Hoffer Award opened a window in The Authority of Book Awards. Years earlier, its chairman talked about the popular award’s humble beginnings in The Eric Hoffer Award: Righting the Wrongs.

While The US Review of Books boasts over 15,000 monthly subscribers, tens of thousands of additional readers visit its on-line publication to view the results of the Eric Hoffer Book Award each spring. Let’s take a look at how the excitement and the Hoffer Award in general has enhanced the success of the authors and publishers who registered their books with one of the most popular international competitions for small, academic, and independent books.

“Educators look for credibility, professionalism, and quality when choosing a novel to use in their classrooms, and they’ve been known to balk at choosing self-published titles. But that bright gold Montaigne Award sticker tells the world that my book is a well-written, compelling story middle-grade readers will never forget. As a result, my sales to school systems have sky-rocketed, and my calendar is chock full of classroom visits. Entering my book in the Eric Hoffer Awards was one of the best marketing decisions I could have made.” Holly Moulder, A Time to Be Brave

“In 2009, Barnes and Noble chose my debut historical novel to feature on its New Hardbacks shelves in stores nationwide. This was rare for an indie-published author at that time, and continues to be. It went on to win several more awards, and the Eric Hoffer Book Award committee’s belief in the book was instrumental in its success. Since receiving the Eric Hoffer recognition, I have published four more honored books… I’m very grateful to the Eric Hoffer Award committee for helping me to launch my publishing career.” Glen Craney, The Fire and the Light

“Recognition like the Hoffer award is a strong credibility builder when customers are searching through what has become a blizzard of information. The recognition was much appreciated.” Christine Kent, RN, Save Your Hips

“We’ve seen a 28% increase in sales since the Eric Hoffer Book Award announced the award. My publisher displays the Eric Hoffer Award gold seal on the third edition of my book. When I speak at writer’s seminars, many participants are familiar with the award and that helps sales.” Jamie Dodson, Flying Boats & Spies, A Nick Grant Adventure

“After my book’s Eric Hoffer Award I received more reviews on Amazon and GoodReads.” João Cerqueira, The Tragedy of Fidel Castro

These success stories form the core reason why the Eric Award was created. The US Review of Books to be a sponsor of the Eric Hoffer Book Award.

Create a Feedback Loop for Book Marketing

For sixty millenniums, civilization has exchanged information by word of mouth. Ideas rise and fall in discussion where messages are repeated again and again with others until a generally held belief is developed. Little has changed, except the method of talk. Whether you are promoting a book or tube of toothpaste, the name and message must be repeated, and if you control a small group of messages about your book, you can build a feedback loop that will drive its popularity.

Any experienced author knows that few members of the media provide original book coverage. For a variety of reasons, reporters digest the media kit and whatever information is available on the newsfeeds and repackage the existing information as a fresh offering for their audience. They are echoing the available feedback and, most specifically, the message your media kit presents. When fresh material appears, you get to choose what to incorporate into your ongoing campaign.

Readers behave this way as well. When they visit the major Internet stopping points for reader-generated book feedback, such as Amazon or GoodReads. they will not only decide to read a favorably reviewed book, but they will likely post similar experiences. This works for negative feedback as well. Whether accurate or not, a negative feedback loop is almost impossible to defeat. Just ask Monica Lewinski. The cycle of negativity launched against her did not occur organically. It was generated for political purposes and has been nurtured for twenty years. Again, the key is to control your own message.

When building talking points for a publicity campaign, first decide if your book is timely or timeless. Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, timely books can be attached to current and relevant subjects. Each day, the news media drives people through specific topics and trends. Just saying your book is related will garner media attention. If your book is lucky enough to relate to the topic du jour or you are a topical expert, make the messaging about only that issue until the news cycle burns out.

If your book is a timeless read, identify the genre or subject matter that best identifies your book and highlight the many ways that your book is different or better than what exists on the shelves. As the author, your experience should enter the discussion. Remember, first the reader comes to the author, and then the reader notices the book. Like the book, there should be a singular description about you that helps pique interest and focus the message.

With the recent saturation of Twitter and Facebook promotional pages, publishers admit that social media isn’t what it once was, and they are returning emphasis to the three tier media approach: local, regional, and national, where each level builds on the other until a large feedback loop is underway. This fact likely makes veteran authors chuckle. For years, they’ve worked news clippings within their media kits to focus the discussion regarding their books. These clippings, by the way, are easily reintroduced and reposted on social media platforms. So again, not a lot has changed since the dawn of civilization. A few standout facts, placed in front of an interested audience, will be repeated, and the positive feedback will pile up.

The US Review of Books seeds feedback loops with professional reviews sent to 15,000 monthly subscribers, including additional followers on GoodReads, Facebook, and Twitter.

Customer Service Always Matters

Recently our website home page was wiped clean when the monolith that hosts our business website had technical issues. In the digital world, issues occasionally arise, but when we requested a very simple restore operation (i.e. the placement of a single HTML file: our home page), we were given a ticket number and told that it would be solved in 24 to 48 hours. I don’t know a single business that appreciates being shutdown for a day or two. At 4am we discovered that their problem was fixed, but our website was left in disarray. The promises made to restore our website were forgotten, as well as the promise to notify us when the solution was implemented. In fact, we’re still waiting for the notification. Thank you for a job so poorly executed.

How a company reacts in crisis often reveals its business emphasis: people vs. profit.

The US Review of Books never forgets that it deals with people—most specifically authors who take their books very seriously. Like our web host, the US Review help line is open virtually twenty-four hours per day. On the other hand, we work quickly to resolve issues in an effective manner. Typically it’s a simple misunderstanding or an easy fix. Sometimes it’s a customer who wants specific rewording of their book review and the issue becomes stickier. With any issue, our editors work through a specific set of guidelines to solve the problem as fast as possible and leave the client satisfied. By the way, our web host has never fumbled a billing cycle.

Good customer service involves taking care of the whole as well as the individual.

In the larger picture, the US Review provides professional unbiased book reviews. Our thousands of monthly readers rely on that. To accomplish this, our writers are carefully screened, vetted, and run through a trial review. Like any publication we have a specific style and guidelines. This not only encompasses the summary and critique breakdown of each review, but it includes methods for delivering criticism, which must be aimed at the book—not the author—with clear example and/or focused commentary. Some writers cannot write criticism without being nasty and are quickly shown the door. We have no place for this in our publication. We can make our point without impugning the author.

Focused listening resolves issues.

When an issue arises, there is often subtext to the conversation. At the US Review, our editors understand that the problem isn’t always as stated by the client. While every review we write mentions what the author does well, maybe the author believed that hiring us for a book review automatically returned unfettered praise. Sometimes the author has never had a book reviewed before, which can be startling when insightful third-party examination appears for the first time. From time to time, the author merely desires a different pull quote, which is easy to accommodate. For any issue, the solution is never cookie-cutter or one-size-fits-all.

A quick resolution inspires confidence.

Whether it’s an actual issue that needs to be fixed or a need to better understanding the situation, it is our objective to achieve a polite and speedy resolution. When an author is unhappy, our editors are unhappy. When there are no problems on the board, which is most often, our workday is finished. Caring about individual circumstances makes for a healthier publication as a whole. It also creates return customers.

While we hope that issues never arise, entirely smooth sailing is an unrealistic expectation for any business. At the US Review of Books, we understand that the author is as important as the review of his/her book, and we’re willing to stake our reputation on it.